(Oct. 5, 2018) New teachers won’t have to go it alone in Worcester County Public Schools this year.
The New Teacher Induction Program provides myriad resources for educators new to teaching in the county.
Shirleen Church, coordinator of new teacher induction, professional learning and minority student achievement for Worcester County Public Schools, said the program aims to “make sure they grow and become successful, … effective instructors.”
Church said the mentorship component of the program allows new educators to get “that social and emotional support that support that many times teachers need.” Mentors can also provide instruction to further the mentee’s progress.
“Those mentors play a very important part in the success of our teachers,” Church said.
The teacher shortage is nationwide, with 14.2 percent of teachers leaving the school or profession, as compared to 11.9 percent in Maryland, according to the Learning Policy Institute. Church stressed the need to give new teachers the building blocks to thrive as educators.
“The main goal is to make them successful, because if they feel they’re not successful, they’re going to leave us,” she said.
Church detailed the four-day orientation for new teachers in the program, which includes education on the district’s policies, learning “effective instructional content areas,” and working with mentors.
The three-year program for new county teachers aims to set them up for success prior to the opportunity for tenure, which eventually benefits the district through high retention rates.
“We have to do the best we can to recruit and get our teachers here, but we have to keep them successful so they stay here in the career,” Church said.
Church said the district is revamping the existing New Teacher Induction Program, and values feedback from its educators.
A key takeaway, Church pointed out, was “to give more time with our coordinators,” with the hopes new teachers will understand their systems, practices and policies.
“We want to be sure that we’re always engaging them, especially with some of our digital platforms,” Church said.
Worcester County Public Schools had a 92.64 percent retention rate for the 2017-2018 school year. Church cited the test scores and support from the district.
“Number one, it’s a great county to be in,” Church said. “If you look at our test scores, we’re top in the state in many areas, and you know I just think we work really hard to give teachers what they need.”
• Pocomoke Elementary School
For first grade teachers Lavonya Dashiell and Jordan Price at Pocomoke Elementary School, their mentorship provides a veteran perspective for a rookie teacher.
“She’s done it before, so I do like the fact that mentor teachers have done it before and their seasoned in it as well,” Price said. “I see only benefits from it.”
Price said she held a long-term substitute position last year, but this is her first year teaching. Dashiell has taught for 19 years.
Dashiell said she hopes to instill the importance of “(taking) it one day at a time,” and not rushing the teaching process.
Price said she appreciates her “close-knit team,” and while teaching can be an individual profession in some place, there is a true willingness to help within the county’s public school system.
“It’s like [every] man for themselves, but in Worcester County everyone kind of looks out for everyone, and there’s lots of resources that are always made available ...and I think that’s very unique to Worcester County,” Price said.
Dashiell stressed the need for new teachers to feel comfortable in their school. She added the county’s school system provides that.
“I think it’s a good support system, and when people don’t feel supported or appreciated, then they burn out faster,” Dashiell said.
Price emphasized the need for a safe space for new teachers, where they aren’t judged too harshly, by themselves or others.
“That’s important because I feel like first-year teachers get a lot of judgment,” Price said. “It’s not like it is in college, and there’s a lot of judgment put on yourself, and sometimes you might feel it from others, but with this mentoring program you don’t feel it at all.”
Price said she appreciates the willingness for other teachers on her team and in her school to have a dialogue about any issues she may encounter in the classroom, and never “feel(s) like I’m battling my own battles.”
• Snow Hill Elementary School
Snow Hill Elementary School educators Dalton Duncan and Connie West find the New Teacher Induction Program helpful in more ways than one.
In his first year teaching in Worcester County Public Schools, Duncan handles third grade. Mentor West is an instructional math coach, and has taught for 27 years.
“I look at the mentorship as a bridge that will help connect me to being the very best teacher I can,” Duncan said in an email. “With Mrs. West already in the building, it gives me a sense of safety and security.”
Duncan said being a new teacher, he appreciates her willingness to share experiences and provide help.
“I want first-year teachers to know that they have chosen the very best profession,” West said in an email. “I want them to be excited, innovative and creative.”
For West, she said it’s about setting her mentee up for success.
“The program allows me, as a mentor, to give a new teacher the experiences to allow them to discover the possibilities they can encounter with not only the students in their class, but the students in their whole school,” West said in an email.
Duncan said the New Teacher Induction Program provides a sense of transparency for the students.
“I think it is very valuable that our students see and hear how adults communicate with each other,” Duncan said in an email. “It really enhances the old adage, ‘You are never too old to learn.’”
West said she understands how difficult it can be for new teachers, and strives to help get them acclimated to school policies and procedures.
“The first year of teaching can be stressful, overwhelming and often leave you with a feeling of ‘unsureness,’” West said in an email. “By establishing a mentorship, new teachers have multiple opportunities to fine-tune their craft.”
West said she appreciates how determined new teachers like Duncan are to be the best teacher they can be, and added she sometimes picks up their techniques.
“I love their enthusiasm, their knowledge of technology and their eagerness to want to learn and always improve,” West said in an email. “I make it a point to learn something from them!”
• Stephen Decatur Middle School
Stephen Decatur Middle School seventh grade teachers Lauren McCormack and Michelle Hammond agree teaching can be lonely at times, but the program provides a sense of camaraderie.
“I’ve worked in isolation before as a teacher, and it just it feels so much better,” McCormack said. “Like I just feel so much less anxious even though this is my first year in this school, then I have in the past.”
McCormack has been teaching for three years, but this is her first year at the school in Berlin — within Worcester County Public Schools. Her mentor, Hammond, has taught for 24 years.
Hammond said she thinks the program allows for the encouragement and assistance she feels is lacking among educators.
“I think overall support for every teacher across the board,” Hammond said. “I think teachers in general I do not feel supported.”
McCormack added the opportunity to have a veteran teacher as a mentor allows her to anticipate the unexpected in a classroom scenario.
“So that is really helpful, because really time is the only way you’re going to gain that ability,” McCormack said.
The program allows for four paid hours per month outside of school for the pair to discuss topics and work through any issues.
Both said being on the same “planning schedule” is helpful, as they can meet during the day and plan lessons. McCormack added she participates in new teacher nights once a month to gain additional knowledge on a myriad of teaching topics.
Having a mentee also allows veteran teachers to get a fresh perspective in the classroom in a digital age.
Hammond said she’s seen a difference in her students and the way they learn throughout the years.
“We’re not teaching the same kids I had in 1993,” Hammond said.
As a teacher new to the county’s school district, McCormack said she appreciated the opportunity to continue learning in a positive manner.
“It’s not them condemning you for not having it all figured out, but it’s how can we help you fix the problem?” McCormack said. “So, I think the feeling of support and it kind of decreases the pressure that teachers feel already, and it helps you just kind of learn what you need to in order to be effective.”